What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

I recently spoke to a graduate class, and as my remarks were winding down, I was asked, “If you could share career advice with yourself thirty years ago, what would you say?” After thinking for a few moments, I smiled and coached my younger self to do the following:

  1. Listen to “gut instinct.” We each have that innate ability to feel an invisible hand on our shoulder guiding us in a particular direction. Honed by experience and knowledge, that sense of judgment is core to our being. When I find myself in trouble, often I realize that I have ignored my gut instinct due to tiredness, lack of time, or perhaps laziness. If your lament begins with “I wish I had…,” then there’s a good chance you’ve ignored your gut instinct.
  2. Listen before talking. While not always easy to do if time is limited, force yourself to start meetings with a short, open-ended question. This habit physically settles me into the meeting’s presence, and transitions me mentally into a listening mode.
  3. Learn more from mistakes than from success. No one likes to make mistakes, particularly you. Errors can be painful and embarrassing, and might even disappoint others. These raw emotions help transform mistakes into learning memories. While we certainly don’t aspire to making mistakes, accept them for what they are. They often occur when we most need to learn something.
  4. Explore the world. Within the next thirty years, I predict you’ll visit more than thirty-five countries and be exhilarated by the sense of adventure. But realize you can also explore your world by speaking to the stranger standing next to you or joining in community service. Venturing out into the world illuminates not only differences in cultures, languages, and views, but also, and more importantly, similarities shared.
  5. A brand is built, but a reputation is received. Building my brand—what I want to be known for—is a continuous career exercise in shaping how I spend my time, voice, and talent. Don’t be afraid to think about brand, but also don’t mistake your efforts as building reputation. Your reputation can’t be built, but can only be given to you by others.

As I finished my remarks that day, I felt a quiet sense of joy and gratitude; joy for the good moments yet to come, and gratitude for those that have already been.